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An Interview with Franco Battiato: Sicily's Poet


Born in Jonia, Sicily, Franco Battiato has earned widespread admiration in Italy by exploring and creating a mystic world of sounds and images. Battiato has worked in several genres of music and has released dozens of records throughout the years. His first major cinematic achievement brought him to New York in 2004. I had the pleasure of speaking with him while he was there presenting his film, "Perduto amore" (Lost Love), at Lincoln Center. With this film, he succeeded in blending his unique vision, storytelling and music to create a movie that moves quickly and captures both the traditions of Sicily and the excitement of big-city Milan seen and felt through Battiato’s main character. 

According to Battiato, "The film, in three parts, recounts the life adventures of a young Sicilian. The hero, Ettore Corvaja, turns nine at the close of the famous music competition, the San Remo Festival, in 1955. His idyllic childhood, from the mid-fifties to the mid sixties, unfolds in the bosom of a family and a Sicily that might well be a complete figment of his imagination The child grows up in the bliss of those years and receives the teachings of his mentor, an aristocratic man of culture, who lives in the same town. In the second part of the story, Ettore is twenty, and with his studies behind him, his future already seems set. We are now in the heyday of the economic boom with all of its confusion and contradictions. In the third part, Ettore has moved to Milan. Suddenly plunged in the frenzy of the city, he enters the world of music but is highly suspicious of everything it represents. He secretly aspires to be a writer. When, to his perplexity, encounters an esoteric study group, a vast universe opens up to Ettore. For the first time in his life, he discovers the beauty of exploring his true self."

When I spoke with Franco Battiato, I asked him about the film and about his political views. He has a passion for the culture of the Middle East and played a concert in Iraq shortly after the Gulf War

Is "Perduto Amore" an autobiographical story?
Every artist has his or her own point of view. The protagonist in my film is not me, but he has seen everything that I've seen.  

In your film, the protagonist leaves Sicily and goes North to pursue his dreams of being a writer and musician. Did you do the same?
Yes, it is the same story.

Do you remember the first thing you wrote?
A Sicilian song when I was thirteen.

Was it the tune of the music or the words that inspired you?
My passion is for the words and music together.

Was your family supportive?
My father inspired me the most, but as much as he liked music, he was against me getting into music as a career.

You've expressed your opinions for what's happening in the Middle East. What do think about the current situation?
I feel bad for what's going on in the world. I feel bad that people are losing their lives. The whole event has changed the world tremendously. It's very sad, but what's done is done and now they just need to put everything together and move on. There is too much at stake. This is something that never should have happened. This has not been a good period for politics also in Italy. I think that Berlusconi follows President Bush too much.

You performed in concert in Iraq after the Gulf War. Tell me about that.
It was a very moving experience. I was there about six months after the war was over. The air was like black dust from what had just happened. When I sang an Arabic song, the people cried and cried, like it was raining tears.

That brings me to my next question. You reach out to different cultures by singing in several languages. Why is this so important to you?
I want to touch every nationality in a different way. Each language has its own way to say the same thing. For example, something in English could be said in two or three words, simpler than in Italian, which requires perhaps a paragraph for the same meaning.

What inspires you to write?
I write songs based on feelings, maybe a letter that I just received, whatever I'm feeling in that moment.

You're also a painter. When did you start to paint?
Twelve years ago, I started to paint for therapy.

Of everything, which art form do you prefer?
It's not easy. The music is abstract. The movie, on the contrary, is real. If you listen to the music, you can imagine the story and the atmosphere as you want. In the movie, you see what the director wants you to see. In paintings, it's a meditation art. You stay alone with the canvas, and you start the experience.

Why did you decide to direct, and do you think you'll continue in this direction? 
The first film was commissioned and I accepted with pleasure. The second film becomes a necessity for me. It was incredible because the first step was hard, but it is necessary to continue and to make other movies.

What do you think of American film?
You have wonderful movies and bad movies. I think American filmmakers are great when they have minimal to work with…fantastic. But, when they use all those special effects, it can seem ridiculous. Whether it's a drama or comedy, I think the important thing is to make a good movie with good characters.  

Franco Battiato's work is available in music stores and over the internet. "Perduto Amore" had a limited release in 2004. He is online at www.battiato.it. There you can see his paintings and read about his life and work. A link to an English version is included on the site.


The cast of Battiato's "Perduto Amore" 

Versione Italiano...
Translation by Barbara Tricarico

Nato a Jonia, in Sicilia, Franco Battiato si è conquistato la popolarità italiana col suo voler andare oltre i confini della normalità per esplorare e creare una nuova moltitudine di immagini e suoni. Battiato ha trattato vari generi musicali e inciso dozzine di dischi, ma il suo ultimo successo appartiene al campo cinematografico. Con una sapiente mistura di musica e narrazione, ha creato un film dal ritmo concitato che immortala sia le tradizioni siciliane che la frenesia di una Milano metropolitana, vissuta attraverso il suo personaggio principale.

La Sicilia degli anni '50… è qui che Ettore è cresciuto nutrito dell'amore di sua madre e di sua nonna nella mistica terra della canzone, del lavoro e della tradizione. "Perduto Amore" è uno stupendo ritratto della Sicilia creato da Franco Battiato. Racconta la storia di un ragazzino di nove anni con la passione per la musica. Corre voce che la storia sia autobiografica.

Battiato ha detto che "Il film, in tre parti, racconta le avventure di un giovane siciliano. Il nostro eroe, Ettore Corvaja, compie nove anni in coincidenza della famosa gara canora: il festival di San Remo del 1955. La sua idillica infanzia, da metà degli anni cinquanta a metà dei sessanta, si svolge in seno ad una famiglia e ad una Sicilia che potrebbero essere benissimo frutto della sua immaginazione.
Il ragazzo cresce nella beatitudine di quegli anni e riceve gli insegnamenti del suo tutore, un aristocratico uomo di cultura che vive nello stesso piccolo centro di provincia. Nella seconda parte della storia, Ettore ha vent'anni e, nonostante i suoi studi, il suo futuro sembra ancora incerto. Siamo nel pieno del boom economico, con tutta la confusione e le contraddizioni che comporta.
Nella terza parte, Ettore si è trasferito a Milano. Subito coinvolto nella frenesia della città, si addentra nel mondo della musica ma è molto sospettoso verso tutto ciò che esso rappresenta. Egli aspira segretamente a diventare scrittore. Quando incontra un gruppo di studi esoterico,  con sua grande meraviglia gli si apre un nuovo universo. Per la prima volta nella sua vita scopre la bellezza di esplorare il suo io."

Recentemente, ho avuto il piacere e l'onore di parlare col signor Battiato del film e delle sue vedute politiche. E un appassionato della cultura Mediorientale ed è stato in concerto in Iraq subito dopo la guerra del Golfo.

"Perduto Amore" è una storia autobiografica?
Ogni artista ha il suo punto di vista personale. Il protagonista non sono io ma ha vissuto tutto ciò che io ho vissuto.

Nel suo film, il protagonista lascia la Sicilia e si sposta nel Nord Italia per perseguire il suo sogno di diventare scrittore e musicista. E' quello che ha fatto anche lei?
Esattamente.

Si ricorda la prima cosa che ha scritto?
Una canzone siciliana quando avevo tredici anni.

Qual è stata la tonalità musicale o le parole che l'hanno ispirata?
La mia passione è per le parole e la musica insieme.

La sua famiglia l'ha sostenuta nelle sue scelte?
Mio padre mi ha ispirato più di tutti, ma per quanto amasse la musica non era d'accordo che io la intraprendessi come carriera.

Lei ha già dato la sua opinione su ciò che sta succedendo in Medioriente. Che cosa pensa della situazione attuale?
E' terribile ciò che sta succedendo nel mondo e che così tanta gente abbia perso la vita. L'intera faccenda ha cambiato il mondo, ma quel che è fatto è fatto, dovrebbero solo cercare di andare avanti. C'è troppo in ballo. Non avrebbe mai dovuto succedere. Non è stato un buon periodo per la politica, neppure in Italia. Credo che Berlusconi segua troppo il presidente Bush.

Mi racconti del suo concerto in Iraq.
E' stata un'esperienza davvero commovente. Sono stato in Iraq sei mesi dopo la fine della guerra. L'aria era come intrisa di polvere nera. Quando ho cantato una canzone in arabo la gente ha pianto così tanto che sembrava piovessero lacrime.

Questo si collega alla mia prossima domanda. Lei fa riferimento a diverse culture cantando in diverse lingue. Come mai?
Voglio entrare in contatto con ogni cultura in maniera diversa. Ogni lingua ha un diverso modo di esprimere uno stesso concetto. Per esempio, ci sono idee che in inglese possono essere espresse in due o tre parole mentre in italiano richiedono un paragrafo

Cos'è che le dà l'ispirazione?
Scrivo canzoni basate sui sentimenti, posso essere ispirato da una lettera che ho appena ricevuto, qualsiasi sentimento io possa provare è fonte di ispirazione. 

So che si dedica anche alla pittura. Quando ha cominciato?
Dodici anni fa, l'ho fatto per scopi terapeutici. 

Qual è la sua forma d'arte preferita?
Difficile dirlo. La musica è astratta, il film, al contrario, è molto concreto. Ascoltando la musica si può immaginare l'atmosfera e la storia come si vuole. Nel film si vede ciò che il regista vuole farci vedere. La pittura è un'arte di meditazione, si è da soli con la tela.

Come mai ha deciso di intraprendere la carriera di regista? Pensa di continuare?
Il primo film mi è stato commissionato ed ho accettato volentieri, ma il secondo è stato per me una necessità. E' sorprendente come il primo passo sia duro ma poi si sente la esigenza di continuare.

Cosa pensa del Cinema americano?
Ci sono film eccellenti e film pessimi. Penso che i registi americani siano straordinari quando la componente fantastica è implicata in minima parte, ma a volte l'eccessivo uso di effetti speciali può risultare ridicolo. Che si tratti di un dramma o di una commedia, credo che la cosa importante sia creare un buon film curando i personaggi.

Gli album di Franco Battiato sono disponibili in negozi di dischi o su internet. "Perduto Amore" sarà nelle sale per un periodo di tempo limitato. Maggiori informazioni si possono trovare sul sito www.battiato.it dove si possono anche ammirare i suoi dipinti.

- Jeannine Guilyard

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